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Synthesis/Regeneration 28   (Spring 2002)

NGOs Support a Treaty to Establish
the Gene Pool as a Global Commons

by Ben Lilliston, Communications Coordinator,
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Biotech activists from more than 50 nations announced their support for a treaty which would establish the earth’s gene pool as a global commons. Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGOs) leaders say they will challenge government and corporate claims on patents on life in every country. The treaty is the first globally coordinated campaign among biotech activists, and already has the support of over 250 organizations.

The Treaty Initiative was announced simultaneously in New York at the United Nations preparatory meetings for the Rio+10 meeting, and in Porto Alegre, Brazil at the World Social Forum.

Activists will be working with political parties to introduce the Treaty Initiative in parliaments around the world over the next year. In September 2002, activists will demand that governmental delegates to the Rio+10 Conference in South Africa endorse the Treaty to Share the Genetic Commons and make it the centerpiece of future biodiversity efforts.

Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends in Washington, DC, says, “The gene pool should not be allowed to be claimed as commercially negotiable genetic information or intellectual property by governments, commercial enterprises, other institutions or individuals. The global gene pool is a shared legacy and, therefore, a collective responsibility.” Mr Rifkin added, “A global treaty to share the gene pool is the most important task ahead of us as we make the transition into the Age of Biology.”

The Treaty Initiative to Share the Genetic Commons aims to prohibit all patents on plant, microorganism, animal, and human life.

The Treaty Initiative to Share the Genetic Commons aims to prohibit all patents on plant, microorganism, animal, and human life. “Currently, under the protection of the WTO, multinational corporations are exploiting critical genetic resources for private gain,” says Kristin Dawkins, Vice President of Global Programs at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “This ground-breaking global initiative represents a major new effort by NGOs to work within the existing global system to change international law so that it works for all people.”

“Biodiversity has been the base of agriculture and food security for 10,000 years,” says Elizabeth Brazo, of Accion Eco Log Ica (Ecuador). “The use of intellectual property rights has prevented this generation of new biodiversity. In fact, we are losing genetic diversity every day.”

“The exploitation of genetic material that permits human life would change forever the potential of mankind,” said Bill Christison, President of the National Family Farm Coalition which is the US member of Via Campesina. “A major theme supported by farmers and peasants in Via Campesina is that the world is not for sale and certainly this includes the gene pools of the people of the world.”

Eighteen organizations, including the Foundation on Economic Trends, the International Forum on Globalization, and the National Family Farm Coalition in the US, Centro de Educacion y Tecnología in Chile, Comitato Scientifico Antivivisezionista in Italy, the Indigenous Peoples’ Biodiversity Network in Peru, Southeast Asia Regional Institute for Community Education (SEARICE) in the Philippines, the Community Technology Development Trust in Zimbabwe, and Via Campesina have formed an international committee working to create a civil society process which would lead to the presentation of the Treaty to governments at the Rio+10 Conference in South Africa in the fall.

“This treaty is designed to ensure that governments and Indigenous Peoples are the caretakers of their part of the genetic commons and to establish the appropriate statutory mechanisms needed to ensure both sovereignty and open access to the worlds genetic diversity,” says Hope Shand of ETC Group (formerly RAFI).

To read the Treaty, go to http://www.tradeobservatory.org/

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